Currently viewing the tag: "Miami-Dade Transit"

This news is a few days old, but we wanted to post it in case anyone didn’t see the article in the Miami Herald. A bus driver hit a bicyclist and didn’t even bother to stop, ignoring the cries of his passengers.

The bicyclist escaped with some scrapes as an early Christmas present. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, the driver has been suspended, so we have one less bus driver out there trying to maim bicyclists. He’s still getting paid, though. MDT wouldn’t want to let him miss that hefty salary paid by your sales tax.

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Transit leaders and community residents got together this past weekend for a long overdue transit summit smackdown. Finger pointing and ’roundtable’ discussions were the order of the day in this feeble attempt at covering the collective asses of our municipal leaders (a term use lightly here).  The absence of Transit Committee chair Dorrin Rolle was embarrassing, and shows how personally dedicated our elected officials are to this issue.

Many ideas were thrown around, most of which we have been championing for a while. (See Streetfoolish or The Week in Transit) Depressing though our situation may be, we have reason to hope that the Obama administration will prioritize mass transit, and help cities get federal dollars without having to jump through hoops. The FDOT quick starts funding program places a heavy burden on municipalities to prove transit’s ‘cost effectiveness’, while roads and highways are funded with far fewer obstacles.

Notwithstanding this possible policy change, what do we do now? The Alavrez administration contends that the PTP has resulted in two separate transit systems: one that existed prior to the PTP and the one that was promised to voters. Unfortunately, this is true, but the solution is not to pool that surtax dollars with MDT funds, rendering the Citizens Transportation Trust even more obsolete, but to make the CTT the steward of all transit funds (fare revenue, tax revenue, etc). Along with that, further untie the hands of the CTT to act independently. If we can’t rely on our elected officials to act, then someone has to be responsible for advocating and advancing transit in the region.

PS. Repealing the surtax is a bad idea. It doesn’t solve the problem of providing transit to our citizens, and will regress transit in the region twenty years. Our leaders over-promised and underdelived, always a winning combination, but is that a reason to cut our nose to spite our face?  We are the ones who loose if the tax is repealed. Please write to your commissioner to tell them what you think.

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Here are some interesting going on lately.

  • The City of Miami PAB is set to vote on a allowing a special district for the “World City” development on 25 acres in Park West, Downtown Miami.  This is a great project that has been in the pipeline for a while now that includes 9 blocks of mixed-use retail, office, residential buildings in an area that desperately needs urban infrastructure. Three transit stops are included within the project, which surrounds the Network Access Point (NAP) Building (the one with large globes on the roof). The project developers have been working with the city for two years in anticipation of Miami21 and have made sure that the project is consistent with its regulations, though it has not yet been approved. Kudos to the Mayor, Planning Department staff, and the Falcone group for taking this big step for our city.
  • Beach leaders met to discuss traffic congestion and parking (without really addressing the greater transit problem of connecting the beach with the mainland).

In other matters, the commission unanimously approved sending bids for car and bicycle programs that would let residents share vehicles for a fee — hopefully decreasing the need for Beach residents to hold on to their own cars.

  • Transit fares held steady as Commissioner Gimenez’s re-vote did not pass. Thanks to the people who called or emailed their Commissioners. Now, we can start to get our system back on track.
    Seven commissioners voted against the reconsideration: Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss, Dorrin Rolle, Audrey Edmonson, Natacha Seijas, Sally Heyman and Katy Sorenson.Five commissioners voted to reconsider the fare increase: Gimenez, Javier Souto, Rebeca Sosa, Bruno Barreiro and José ”Pepe” Diaz.

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Larry Lebowitz reports that our current level of transit service is in jeopardy. Let us not even talk about the Orange Line expansion. When will our representatives understand that no great city is without a functional regional transit system?

Get off your ass people. Call your commissioners and complain that Miami-Dade needs more transit, not less. After all, you voted to extend transit, not reduce it!

If you’ve been too distracted by elections and Vice Presidential nominations this week, maybe you haven’t heard yet that Miami Dade Transit may be cutting bus routes. Larry Lebowitz at the Miami Herald has the details on the routes that could be cut. These are routes with plenty of ridership, so nothing to be taken lightly.

We are sorry we didn’t get this news out before Mayor Carlos Alvarez won reelection by a landslide. It seems these cuts are being proposed by him and County Manager George Burgess. Lebowitz says that they would be returning the total miles of bus service “close to the pre-sales tax levels of 2002.” That would just prove that the sales tax initiative has failed. I believe that Miller-McCune magazine was justified in putting the Metrorail expansion and the sales tax inititiative on their list of “The World’s Biggest Boondoggles.”

The county commission will be voting on this issue Sept. 2., along with the vote on the proposed fare increase. We urge them to clean up this mess by seeking new sources of income for existing transit service, and coming up with a solid plan to expand Metrorail and bus transit—not by cutting existing service or putting extreme burden on the riders. The Herald offered some suggestions in a follow-up editorial, and we agree with most of their points. Especially the one suggesting to stop handing out free rides before raising fares or cutting service.

MDT is underfunded, and the county has been using this expansion sales tax to make up the difference. Commissioners need to find another dedicated funding source to keep the trains and buses moving, and then get the expansion back on track with the originally committed funding source. How about raising property taxes to fund the budget deficit? If you have a better idea, let us know.

I recently attended one the public involvement sessions on the Long Range Transportation Plan at the Collins Park Public Library on Miami Beach. 17 members of the community, flanked by an equal number of consultants and staff, played with Lego blocks and ribbons to help formulate the plan for future transportation improvements and enhancements to the year 2030.

You see, the Miami Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning has forecast growth to be 323,000 households and 615,000 jobs by the year 2035.  To show this, the room was set with tables of identical county maps, and the two maps on the center tables had  “buildings” made of striped Lego blocks: one that represented jobs and households today and one in 2035.  The concentration of growth around the Costal Communities and Bay Shore was shocking:  as was the growth projected beyond the UEA (Urban Expansion Area). It was hard not to see the difference between now and then, based on these projections.

After a beautiful lite dinner of sandwiches and cookies, the focus group officially kicked off with a lightening speed definition of the MPO, its guiding mandate and geographical composition.  The program kept it’s fast pace through the opinion gathering portion of the evening: a survey of statements about “feelings” of  transit…”Do you agree it is safe to ride transit?”  “Do you agree the possibility of global warming should affect transit programming decisions?”  “Do you think building more roads will make traveling better?” The responses were recorded through hand held gizmos, and zapped to a data collection point, where in real time, the responses would be projected on the screen in numerical and graphical form, a la Who wants to be a Millionaire?

For those whose true feeling about transit could not be measured in lifeline questions, a longer comment/suggestion sheet of proposed goals and objectives of the LRTP was presented for feedback and filling out.  This two-page work-product, from the firm Gannett Fleming, featured eight categories and no less than 49 lofty concepts, ranging from “Reducing congestion” to  “Enhancing mobility for people and freight.”

Each table of participants was given bags of Lego’s; purple and orange ribbons; stickum; scissors; a tape measure and markers. They were told to work together, to make group decisions, by the table facilitator, who explained the exercise and recorded the results.  Groups were instructed how to “Build Out” the County, with the “Large-Scale Growth Scenario Base Map”.  The households were represented with 253 yellow Lego’s and 160 red Lego’s stood for employment, with one yellow piece representing 1, 280 households; The red, 3840 jobs. (These Lego’s represented new growth only)  The intensity of growth was portrayed by vertically stacking the Lego’s within each one-mile square grid on the six-foot map.  Next, folks were instructed to add purple for more roads and orange for transit improvements that would be needed.  The participants were encouraged to add as much as they thought was required.  As playtime came to a close, the groups were told to go on a diet, measure the length of orange and purple on the map and use no more than the allotted amount.

Click here to submit your own thoughts on the Miami-Dade LRTP…

The County Commission was busy recently as it tried to finish up important business before the August recess. Several key votes relevant to our ongoing discussions about transit, planning and the Home Rule Charter were made (or delayed) at the July 17th and 18th meetings. Larry L. hit the nail on the head this morning in his assessment of what is going on.  I know there are a precious few of us nerds who actually go to the meetings or watch them on TV, so here is a little more info on what is being discussed.

The Commission was given a budget by the Mayor that outlined the finances of MDT and the Metrorail expansion that included certain assumptions about fare increases and other new revenue streams that the board has not yet approved. The board balked at this and said that they want a basic pro-forma that does not make any assumptions, after which they will choose what they want to do. Most of this is political posturing. The fare increases and other measures are not drastic at all, and help show the FTA that we are working in good faith. I’m going to take the unpopular stance that commissioners Jordon and Barreiro really do care about this issue and are not only thinking about re-election. If this budget had not passed to the FTA then we would have certainly lost any chance of getting Quick Start funding for the Orange Line.

The real issue here, as repeated by Assistant Manager Ysela Llort, is whether the Orange Line is a priority of the Commission. Between Joe Martinez being against more gas tax and Sally Heyman against raising fares, one wonders whether these people understand that their constituents are the ones who lose by not making these decisions. It is disingenuous for these people to continue to posture like they give a damn about their consitituents when in fact all they do is pussyfoot around the issue, and mismanage billions of taxpayer dollars. As Commissioner Javier Souto said, “If this were a private business, everyone would be fired.” I agree Senator Souto, we should start with you.

The most sobering assessment of the situation is laid out in County Manager Burgess’ letter to the board. The one big recommendation that I have been against so far, but am changing my position is regarding the PTP dollars. As you see in the letter, the use of PTP dollars exclusively for new projects is hurting us in the long run. We need to allow the money to be used for our existing system. Whether that is what we intended in the first place or not is no longer the issue. Lets be smart about the money we have so that our system can grow at a strategic pace, and for god’s sake don’t repeal the 1/2 cent tax. If studying this situation has shown us anything it is that repealing the tax would kill our system, and send us back twenty years. Looking at other transit systems across the county, the norm for transit funding is equivalent to a 1 cent sales tax. That is part of the answer. We cannot advocate for more transit without wanting to pay for it. There is no one solution to this problem. As Commissioner Dorin Rolle said at the meeting, “We didn’t get here overnight. We have been asleep while this problem has grown.” I couldn’t agree more. I urge everyone who cares about this issue to write to your Commissioner and let them know what you think.

Below are some of the proposed resolutions currently on the table for discussion. If anyone has any other ideas, post them so that they can be considered. It is clear that the commission is useless and relies on other people to do their work for them. Let’s help them out.

  • RESOLUTION MODIFYING THE SCHEDULE OF TRANSIT FARES, RATES AND CHARGES TO INCREASE THE METRORAIL PARKING PERMIT FEE FROM $6.25 TO $10.00, PER MONTH
  • RESOLUTION SUPPORTING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF DISTANCE BASED AND/OR PEAK/NON-PEAK TRANSIT FARE RATES
  • RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE MAYOR TO STUDY THE FEASIBILITY OF RESTORING TWO CENTS TO THE 1993 FIVE CENTS CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS LOCAL OPTION GAS TAX LEVIED ON MOTOR FUEL
  • RESOLUTION DIRECTING THE COUNTY MAYOR TO STUDY AND TO SUBMIT A WRITTEN REPORT AS TO THE ADDITIONAL REVENUES TO BE EARNED BY INCREASING THE FARES FOR THE DADE-MONROE EXPRESS BUS ROUTE
  • MODIFYING THE SCHEDULE OF TRANSIT FARES, RATES AND CHARGES BY INCREASING THE FARES BY FIFTY CENTS FOR METROBUS AND METRORAIL AND BY ESTABLISHING AUTOMATIC FARE ADJUSTMENT EVERY THREE YEARS CONSISTENT WITH MIAMI-DADE TRANSIT’S OPERATING COST INDEX (OCI) [SEE ORIGINAL ITEM UNDER FILE NO. 081541]

My big idea is to float GOB type bonds for individual Metrorail projects. We could put four proposed Metrorail lines on the ballot, each with a different cost and schedule. Let the people vote on where they want their money to go. That way the line that would get voted for would have a dedicated source of funding (without having to go to the FTA), and our system would grow. After three years, if we see that this is working, we could float another bond, and so on. (Keep in mind that the Commission is sending another GOB type bond to the ballot this November for more capital improvement projects. If they can do this for capital improvements, they can do it for transit!)

What do you think?

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My experience today was much like every other work day:
  • 7:55 drive one mile to the South Miami metrorail station
  • 8:00 park & catch a train as I reach the top of the stairs
  • 8:12 depart to Brickell metrorail station
  • 8:20 catch the Metro Mover to Financial district
  • 8:25 first to arrive in the offce - unlock the office door
All in all, a stress free commute to work.
Listened to NPR on my IPOD during the commute.
Didn’t spend a lot on gas (1 mile drive to the train station) or contribute to global warming.
Didn’t spend any time stuck in traffic, being stressed out.
(My wife is jealous of my commute.)

One Hour and forty minutes – that is how long my commute was this morning from Coral Gables/Coconut Grove to my office in Doral.  Utilizing the 37, 36A, and 41 buses, I seamlessly (for the most part) was able to get to work before the 9 AM arrival time goal.

My day began at 7 AM with a 17-minute walk to catch the 37 bus in Coconut Grove.  The morning was cool and the lush shade trees in the grove provided a wonderful canopy that shaded much of the walk (Really, walking Miami would not be terrible if we had an adequate canopy cover.)  Standing, waiting for the bus to arrive, I watched as car after car of single occupant vehicles began their daily commutes while joggers utilized the main highway multi-use path.  The 37 bus arrived about 3 minutes behind schedule.  Once aboard, I began to realize the biggest downfall of the entire MDT system; route alignment.  Route 37 meandered in and out of the Douglas Road Metro station, Tri-Rail station, and all of the concourses of Miami International before finally reaching my stop at NW 36th Street about 40 minutes after I had boarded.

The transfer to the 36A was perfect.  The bus had pulled up behind the 37 as I was disembarking.  The 36A was standing room only and one of the passengers was a fellow coworker of mine who was also attempting to go car-free for the day from Miami Beach.  The 36A was filled with Doral employees including some Carnival and city employees.  The 36A transported us to the Doral Center on NW 53rd street where we (and nearly everyone else on the bus) transferred (yet again) to the 41.

As we boarded the 41, the bus operator immediately warned us not to photograph her or her bus, after she spotted us snapping a couple of pictures before getting on.  The route dropped us off just across the street from our offices on 97th avenue, leaving us to cross the treacherous 41st  intersection that lacks pedestrian signals.

From my experience this morning, the biggest flaw with MDT’s system is the route alignment and unnecessary transfers.  The MIC-MIA connector will alleviate some of the problems for many of these buses, eliminating the junket to the terminals for several routes.  MDT also needs to introduce a cross-county route that transports passengers across Doral, rather then leaving us at its doorstep and expecting us to transfer to another route.

The whole point of this experiment was to illustrate how difficult it is get to the second largest employment district in the County, Doral.  As I shared with my coworkers, this type of on-hands research is critical to understanding what types of problems we face in the planning industry (from transit to land use.)  Disturbingly, I know of several transportation planners who have never stepped foot on a public bus, let alone walked across a busy street and yet these are the people we designate to design our public spaces.

I cannot wait for my ride home – on paper it should only take an hour, if all goes well…

Check out the Twitter sidebar for updates on my progress in tomorrow’s Summer Transit Challenge.

If you or someone you know would like to share their transit story with us, feel free to comment or send us an email: movemiami@gmail.com

UniversalGate2100

Photo of the Universal Gate 2100 Courtesy Cubic Transportation Systems

According to this article by Larry Lebowitz on the Miami Herald website, the Miami-Dade Transit Agency will be introducing SmartCard technology over the next year.  The first fare boxes are scheduled to begin appearing in Metrobuses starting this month, with a systemwide roll-out to be completed by the end of 2009.

Gone will be the days of bus drivers inflating their fare counts at the Dadeland South Metrorail station on the Busway lines, as they manually press the button for Metropass customers.  Here will be the days of discrete passenger counts at all stops, in order to provide information to the Federal Transit Administration, and, ostensibly to provide more accurate alignment of vehicle choice with the route.

The infosheet provided by the MDTA identifies Cubic Transportation Systems as the vendor the county has selected to implement this $42MM system.  Above, you will see a likely candidate for a fare gate that will be replacing the turnstiles which have been in use since Metrorail’s opening in 1982.  I’m certain that the county will, in the style of other transit systems around the country, raise a bar between gates to prevent people from climbing the gates.

One excellent feature of the system is that reloadable cards are available for all, with appropriate coding on the card for individuals who are eligible for discounts or free fares.  Photo identification can be integrated into the SmartCards, which should eliminate the trading and forging of cards which has plagued the manual system currently in place.

Perhaps the best feature is that for the Average Jane or Average Joe, they will be able to purchase the cards at Ticket Vending Machines at all Metrorail stations, and they’ll be able to reload these cards much like a SunPass can be reloaded.

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Flickr Photo Courtesy Redpopjp

After reading Larry Lebowitz’s article in The Miami Herald yesterday, I decided to take a look around the nation at transit fares. 

Here, for your edification (and, hopefully, action), I compare what our fares here in Miami-Dade County would look like after enactment of our commission-proposed fare hike, versus fares of some other transit agencies around the country.  The purpose of this is to get those of you out there who are reading this, and who are so inclined, to speak up – let your County Commissioner know that you won’t stand for a fare increase of the likes they are proposing.

While I researched nine transit systems, I am only posting here the top five of those I researched.

Continue reading »

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Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald Transportation reporter, wrote last night in breaking news that the Miami-Dade Commissioners delayed their vote for a $0.50 hike in bus and train fares for Miami-Dade Transit.  According to Lebowitz, the deferral puts more pressure on the mayor and the transit agency to find solutions to the current cash crunch faced by the agency, as well as to determine what promises can be salvaged from the 2002 People’s Transportation Plan campaign.

Also, in the article, Bruno Barreiro, the chair of the Commission, indicated that he is not against bringing a repeal of the $0.005 surtax, if any plans that would be forthcoming from the mayor and the transit agency were devoid of concrete plans on how to expand Metrorail as indicated in the original ballot initiative.

While the delay may mean a short-term gain for the increasing numbers of consumers of these services, it only puts off the pain of balancing the books into the future – if, in fact, this increase will balance them.

Unfortunately for those of us who do use transit, the demand elasticity just usually isn’t there for us to be able to choose an alternate means of conveyance.  Especially with gasoline and diesel approaching, in some areas, $5.00 per gallon, many of us who use transit will take the fare hike in stride, and continue to use the services.  $2.00 a ride, depending on length, isn’t all that bad, and it is in line with the single-rider fare of other major metropolitain areas.

Where the commission should watch out, however, is with the price of the Metropass.  A fare hike from $75 to $100 will put the price of the pass out of reach of many of those who buy it, and might discourage companies that currently pay for part or all of their employee’s commute from keeping this benefit.  Also of note here is that a $100 monthly pass will put the cost of this pass at or near the top of the list nationwide.

Rethinking Transit

A reconstruction could be brewing for Miami-Dade Transit. Commissioner Javier D. Souto wrote an open letter last week discussing the issues that have arisen with the People’s Transportation Plan. Somehow the Miami Herald has ignored it in their series so far, but the South Florida Business Journal covered the letter. Souto begins by discussing the importance of mass transit in the day of $4/gallon gasoline and the continued difficulty with getting people out of their cars into an inconvenient transit alternative. After going on about the problems we have, he proposes a radical idea: privatize transit.

Souto starts the paragraph by saying, “if the desire is to make a profitable transit system…” This is where I imagine his whole paragraph must be sarcasm. Then I remember that there are still those who are convinced that transit should be funding itself, and those people would desire to make a profit from a transit system. So, Souto (or anyone else), if that is your desire, quench it. Transportation is not profitable. Period. Government subsidizes every aspect of it, from roads to railroads to bus systems to Metrorail. It’s a subject worthy of an entire post, so let’s just make it clear that profit should not be the goal of any transit system. Not unless we have a major paradigm shift to also make a profit with roads…

Regardless of motive, privatizing transit is not unheard of. The original streetcars in the US were all privately owned and operated. Unfortunately, that made it easier for them to fold as the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation in this country. The same thing happened with intercity passenger rail, and only a subsidized Amtrak is left standing. Those systems failed because their goal was to make a profit.

Today we have brought mass transit under government subsidy, and we have developed Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) that maintain governmental control and regulation. The I-595 project is a good example, as a private company will design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the improvements, while FDOT maintains control over things like standards and tolls. FDOT will not be turning a profit from the system, either. The toll FDOT collects will not be sufficient to pay off the concessionaire company for building it, so they will be using other budgeted funds to pay for it. Profit is the motivator for the private company, of course, but not for the government agency. Transit could work the same way. A private company could design, build, and finance Metrorail improvements, while operating and maintaining the existing and future system. The county would still have to control things like fares and basic standards.

That brings us to the biggest problem. Someone responsible would still have to manage a PPP. Until the county takes some major steps in the right direction, we would not have the confidence for them to direct a PPP any better than they have the current state of affairs. Could a PPP have any success in Miami-Dade Transit? Perhaps. Privatization might boost the confidence that transit can be managed properly (or it might not), but alone it is not sufficient to solve the woes of the People’s Transportation Plan. And it most definitely will not solve any financial woes. No profit will come to the government from such a privatization. Do you hear that, all you profit-minded capitalists?

 

Photo by Flickr user ImageMD

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We apologize for being slow to comment on the recent Herald series about the People’s Transportation Plan disaster. Everyone at Transit Miami has been extremely busy as of late, but we’ll definitely have several pieces in the coming days and weeks discussing many of the elements referenced by Larry Lebowitz’s multi-part series.

Stay tuned!

Image: Miami-Dade.gov

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